Season Review: Men’s Basketball
- Concordia University Wisconsin had another memorable
season and if there was one word to describe the 2011-12 Falcons it
would have to be special. It was special for many reasons, but the
heart-stopping victories, community service and senior class that
gave every ounce of effort they had into changing the program into
a threat in the Midwest region, describes just a few thoughts when
looking back on the season.
It was four years ago when head coach Shawn Cassidy recruited a select group of young men to attend CUW and his decisions changed the course of the program's history. During the nearly 100 years prior the program hovered around the .500 mark for many of those seasons, but this senior class came together as a family and made a change.
Their effort on and off the court, allowed CUW to earn three-consecutive Northern Athletics Conference North Division titles, back-to-back 20-plus win seasons and create an excitement every time a game is played inside the R. John Buuck Field House.
"Watching this team grow on and off the court has been extraordinary to watch," Cassidy said. "The relationships built and what we were able to accomplish on the court will be remembered for years."
Cassidy increased the difficulty of the schedule for the 2011-12 season to better prepare his team for the long and grinding NAC year. The Falcons opened with two-of-three victories over UW schools, including La Crosse and UW-Platteville.
CUW had the firepower to make another run at an undefeated conference season, and it looked to be in development the first two games of the NAC schedule with a pair of easy victories. Following a blowout non-conference win, the Falcons experienced their first hiccup of the season with a tough-to-swallow 66-65 loss at Benedictine University. The defeat snapped a 20-game NAC winning streak.
The Falcons used a balanced scoring attack in the first 11 games of the season and entered the New Year with an 8-3 record overall and a 4-1 record in NAC play. In those games CUW had 10 or more players score at least a point, a common thread that would help the team later in the year.
While the first portion of the schedule was easy in most games, the NAC contests in the 2012 section of the calendar would be a different story. The Falcons finished the regular season with five-straight league victories, but five points or less decided eight of their final 13 games in the regular season.
CUW relied heavily on its senior class of seven student-athletes. The core of the team included NAC Player of the Year Luke Doedens (Cedarburg, Wis.), four-time All-NAC performer Mitchell Schneider (New Holstein, Wis.) and starting point guard and leader Matt Paluchniak (Oostburg, Wis.).
"Whatever I say about our seniors, it isn't going to be enough," Cassidy said. "We knew every day of their four years what we were going to get out of them and that was 100 percent effort. They changed the way we think about basketball here at CUW. Each and every one of them has been and will always be a great ambassador for the program, especially in the community."
Along with a deep, balanced and experienced supporting cast, the Falcons became the first team in NAC history - since the league formed two divisions - to win three straight division titles. During that time, they compiled a 40-8 record against conference opponents.
"Winning three straight is extremely hard and it says a lot for the guys as they came together and got better as they year went on." Cassidy said. "Having won the two years prior we just expected it would be like the past. When we suffered that early December loss, it was a shock to us, but we came together as a family and worked hard every day to achieve our goals."
CUW won the NAC North Division and knocked off BU to earn the No. 1-overall seed in the NAC Tournament. However, as history would show it would not be the most glamorous spot to be in because the top seed was 6-4 in the league's tournament and just once the No. 1 seed won the tournament as expected.
The Falcons steered clear of an upset in the opening round, but could not keep the momentum going in the NAC Tournament semifinals as they dropped a heartbreaking 85-83 overtime loss to Lakeland College at home. Despite being regionally ranked and finishing with 21 victories, CUW was not able to earn an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Even though things did not end the way they had hoped, the roster is loaded with young talent that is ready to prove itself. CUW will lose a large percentage of its scoring, rebounds, assists, etc., but will rely heavily on a talented group of juniors and underclassmen next season.
"We have a lot of guys on this basketball team that did not get a chance to contribute, or contribute much, that have something to prove next year," Cassidy said. "I think we are going to surprise some people with their improvement, but we have to remember they had to compete against this year's senior class every day in practice."